Uninsured Americans: 86.7 million

Study finds third of Americans under 65 had no health insurance at some point in the past two years. 'Worse than an epidemic,' says health advocacy group head.

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By Jennifer Pifer-Bixler, CNN Senior Medial Producer

NEW YORK (CNN) -- One out of three Americans under 65 went without health insurance at some point during 2007 and 2008, according to a report released Wednesday.

The study, commissioned by the consumer health advocacy group Families USA, found 86.7 million Americans were uninsured for at least a portion of those two years.

Among the report's key findings:

  • Nearly three out of four of those uninsured Americans were without health insurance for at least six months.
  • Almost two-thirds of them were uninsured for nine months or more.
  • Four out of five of the uninsured were in working families.
  • People without health insurance are less likely to have a usual doctor and often go without screenings or preventative care.

"The huge number of people without health coverage is worse than an epidemic," Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, said in a news release. "Inaction on health care reform in 2009 cannot be an option for the tens of millions of people who lack or lose health coverage each year. ... The cost of doing nothing is too high."

The study came out the day before President Barack Obama plans to hold a health care summit at the White House. The president says reforming health care is one of his top priorities.

The number of Americans without health insurance reported by Families USA is much higher than the number reported by the U.S. Census Bureau. According to the census numbers, in 2007 there were 45.7 million uninsured Americans.

Families USA says that number tells only part of the story because the Census Bureau counts only people who were uninsured for the full calendar year.

For its own study, Families USA commissioned The Lewin Group to analyze data from the Census Bureau and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Its study includes people who did not have health insurance for any part of the past two years.

But critics say the Families USA report is misleading. Among them is Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who advised Sen. John McCain on domestic and economic policy during the 2008 election.

"No one disagrees we have a problem with the uninsured," Holtz-Eakin said, but he added that he thinks Families USA is using a cherry-picked number to make a political point the day before the White House summit.

"They are simply choosing to report over a two-year window a measure that always gives you a larger number," he said. To top of page

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